Yekaterinburg, Russia


Ipatyev House, prior to its destruction

Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city, straddles the border between Europe and Asia. It was founded in 1723 by Vasiliy Nikitich Tatishchev and Georg Wilhelm de Gennin, and named after Peter the Great’s second wife, Yekaterina (Catherine) I. In 1796, it received town status. From 1924–91, it was renamed Sverdlovsk, after Bolshevik leader Yakov Mikhaylovich Sverdlov.

Old train station, Copyright magical-world / Vera & Jean-Christophe from Europe, source Flickr

Yekaterinburg grew to become a leading industrial centre of the Urals, with its rich deposits of natural resources. It also became a vital part of the development of the Urals as a whole, and an extremely important trade route. Its nickname is “The Window on Asia.”


Rastorguyev-Kharitonov Palace, Copyright Vera & Jean-Christophe, Source Rastorguev-Kharitonov mansion, Yekaterinburg

Because of its dizzying development and importance on the trade route, it attracted a fair amount of people with money. The city was fast becoming even more important to the Russian Empire during the Great War, but alas, everything changed when the Bolsheviks took over. After they conquered the city, they imprisoned, murdered, or chased away anyone from the upper- and middle-classes, and took all the money and natural resources for themselves.

With all these riches in the hands of a very few, the people of Yekaterinburg suffered greatly. In 1918, a famine broke out, and many people risked their lives to go to nearby towns and villages for decent food. This wasn’t easy, since this was also a period of insane hyperinflation and rationing. The working-class and poor, whom the Bolsheviks supposedly loved so much, were even worse-off than ever before.

Main building of Ural State Technical University, Copyright LordTroy

Yekaterinburg is the setting of the first six chapters of my alternative history, and later on, during Part IV, the four Imperial children of the new generation are sent to their surviving grandparents in Yekaterinburg ahead of the Nazis reaching St. Petersburg. The new Tsaritsa, Arkadiya, was born in Yekaterinburg in 1897.

In the West, Yekaterinburg is best-known as the place where Russia’s last Imperial Family were imprisoned and murdered in 1918. They were held at a former mansion, whose final owner was Nikolay Nikolayevich Ipatyev. In late April 1918, he was ordered to leave his house, and it was renamed “The House of Special Purpose.”

Border between European and Asian Russia, Copyright Jirka.h23

In the 1930s, Yekaterinburg became a centre of industry once more, and during the Great Patriotic War, many factories and technical schools were relocated there. In order to escape the Nazis, many people fled to the safety of Siberia, where the enemy could never reach them. Many of the collections of the Hermitage Museum were also relocated there.

Statue of Yekaterinburg’s founders

Today, the city is home to 16 universities, among them Ural State Technical University, Ural State University, Ural State University of Foresty, Ural State Pedagogical University, Ural State Agricultural Academy, Urals Academy of Architecture, Russian State Vocational Pedagogics University, Military Institute of Artillery, Ural State Mining University, and Ural State Academy of Medicine. The city is also an important stop on the Trans–Siberian Railroad, and has several airports.

Administrative building, Copyright Владислав Фальшивомонетчик (Vladislav Falshivomonetchik)

The city has become a mecca of culture in the Urals, with dozens of libraries, many famous theatres, a philharmonic orchestra, over 30 museums, a circus, unusual monuments (such as the Keyboard Monument), and a recording studio.

Sevastyanov House, Copyright Владислав Фальшивомонетчик

The city is surrounded by lakes and wooded hills. Very similar to Upstate New York, their winter lasts from October till mid-April. It’s not unheard of for winter temperatures to dip below zero. Summer only lasts about 65–70 days, with an average temperature of 64º F (18º C). Since it’s behind a mountain range, the temperature is nothing if not consistent in its inconsistency (just like Albany, NY).


Armenian Apostolic Church of St. Karapet

In 1977, Ipatyev House was ordered razed by Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin (whom I have very mixed feelings about, but ultimately feel was a decent person). He didn’t want it to become a rallying-point for monarchists, but people continued to come anyway. (The Russian Orthodox Church has never made a secret of its desire for a restoration of the monarchy, something I also would support.) In 2003, construction of a church in that spot was completed. The altar is right over the spot where the Imperial Family were murdered.


Church on the Blood, built over the razed Ipatyev House, Copyright A viento

Batumi, Georgia


Drama Theatre Square, Copyright Depols, Source

Batumi is the majority setting of the last chapter of Part III of my alternative history. In June of 1931, the still fairly newlywed Imperial couple finally gets to take a honeymoon, and they choose Batumi for its beautiful warm climate. Also along on the trip is the new Tsesarevich, Yaroslav, called Yarik. The honeymoon couldn’t immediately follow the December 1929 Imperial wedding because of the upcoming Christmas season, the new Tsaritsa’s pregnancy, and the coronation.

Arkadiya, the Tsaritsa, loves Batumi so much, she begs to have a summer home there, and Aleksey agrees to ask some of the palace architects to design a palace there. Even if this new Russia has become a constitutional monarchy, the enlightened new ruling couple have earned the right to enjoy some luxuries.

Batumi street

Batumi is a popular resort town on the Black Sea, and the capital of the autonomous Adjara Province. The earliest evidence of settlement dates from the 8th or 7th century BCE, and it’s believed the Greeks had a colony there. Batumi was also the site of a Roman military fort during Hadrian’s reign (117–138 CE). After antiquity, the city wasn’t mentioned in the records again until the 15th century.

Port of Batumi, as painted in 1881 by Lev Feliksovich Lagorio

Batumi was fought over by the Ottomans and its own Georgians for awhile, until it finally fell under Ottoman rule for the long haul on 13 December 1614. The city was renamed Batoum and made the centre of a sanjak (administrative division). During the Russo–Turkish War of 1828–29, the Ottomans held onto their conquest, and repelled the Russian forces. The Ottomans also initially repelled their enemies during the Russo–Turkish War of 1877–78, but they were finally defeated, and the Treaty of San Stefano and the final act of the Congress of Berlin in 1878 gave Batumi and several other places in Georgia to the Russian Empire. However, Batumi was ordered to have a free port, and a naval station, arsenal, and fortifications were forbidden. This lasted only till 1886.

Building resembling a lighthouse, Copyright Keizers

Batumi received city status on 28 April 1888. During this period of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the city finally began expanding and modernising, with a railroad, oil pipeline, and new industries. The population massively increased in response. The Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party was also highly active during this era, with many strikes and protests led by Ioseb Dzhugashvili (who wasn’t yet styling himself as Stalin).

White Restaurant, Copyright Keizers

During World War I, the Russian Civil War, and the early Soviet period, Batumi passed in and out of Ottoman, British, and Russian hands, as well as enjoying being ruled by its own people for the first time in a very long time. Sadly, Georgia’s hard-won independence came to a premature end in 1921. Under the Soviet heel, nationalism, religion, and everything else relating to Georgian peoplehood were outlawed. The Great Terror of 1936–38 was particularly brutal.


Batumi skyline from the port, Copyright Peter in s

Today, the city is once again free and under Georgian rule. The modern cityscape boasts a number of novelty buildings, such as the White Restaurant, which looks like an upside-down White House; a Sheraton Hotel made to look like the Great Lighthouse of Alexandria; and buildings made to look like the Acropolis and a lighthouse. Other attractions include historic houses of worship, a dolphinarium, an aquarium, the Adjara State Museum, an archaeological museum, and a botanical garden.


Batumi by night, Copyright Irma Laghadze ირმა ლაღაძე, Source Batumi_2014_at night

Since Batumi has a subtropical climate, some of its primary agricultural products include tea and citrus fruits. However, most of the city’s economy comes from tourism.

Russian Orthodox church in Batumi, Copyright Geagea, Source Notre Dame Architecture Library

WIPpet Wednesday—Happy Birthday

These are some pictures of the little flower garden in front of the Pine Hills branch of the Albany Public Library. It’s a respectably working-class neighborhood, around the lower Western Avenue/upper Madison Avenue area of Albany, and right across the street from a police station. I often walked over there after school in sixth grade, during my sophomore year, and when I was in summer school for chemistry after sophomore year.






I’ll also be discussing this in my next RSW post, but I finished my chapter-by-chapter notes for my fourth Russian historical and have begun putting together the file with stuff like the table of contents, cast list, glossary, etc. There are no scenes in the USSR in this particular volume, but I still call it a Russian historical because of the origins of the majority of the characters. I can’t wait to finally start it in November!

Given the era (1948–52) and some chapters/scenes in Japan, I’d like to use bomb-inspired titles for Parts I and II. What do you think of Fission and Fallout, Hypocenter and Epicenter, Bright Light and Black Rain, or Pika (Flash) and Don (Boom)? (Pika-don is what the Japanese call the A-bomb.) The Epilogue is tentatively titled “Red Canna Flowers,” after the beautiful flowers which miraculously sprouted amid the rubble of Hiroshima, only 10 days after the bombing.

It doesn’t seem like a lot of people write about this early postwar era, making this a rather underused historical setting. My main storylines will be Lyuba and Ivan’s long-deferred dream of going to university, the struggles of not exactly conforming in this conformity-loving era, the challenge of being a woman pursuing higher education, the spectre of McCarthyism, the love stories of Lyuba and Ivan’s two younger sons, and the unhealed wounds that come with being a polio survivor.


WIPpet Wednesday is a weekly bloghop hosted by K.L. Schwengel. Excerpts must be related to the date in some way. I’m sharing 17 lines, for 12 + 2015. This is at Aleksey’s 18th birthday dinner, 12 August 1922, before his nephew Savva’s fatal injury put a premature end to the party.

Pelmeni are like Russian pierogivarenye is a type of thick dessert jam; vatrushki are cheese pastries; pirozhki are baked, stuffed buns; and syrniki are fried quark pancakes.


The palace cooks had prepared a feast of sturgeon, pheasant, quail, goose and duck eggs, mutton, French onion soup, pelmeni stuffed with mushrooms and served with sour cream, salads aplenty, stuffed peppers, broiled salmon encrusted with pistachios and orange slices, pirozhki stuffed with minced beef and rice, syrniki served with strawberry varenye, caviar, venison stew, roast goose, tomato cream soup, and vatrushki.  Until he’d been orphaned, Aleksey’s name day in October had always been celebrated more grandly than his birthday in August, but Mikhail felt it important to show the world how modern the monarchy was by putting equal emphasis on birthdays, not just the religious days.  After four years as Regent, he didn’t seem likely to suddenly ease up and grant the constitutional monarchy he’d once wanted, but this was still a form of progress.

“I can’t believe you’re really going to the Sorbonne,” his fifteen-year-old cousin Prince Vasiliy said. “If I were you, I’d be really eager to become Tsar as soon as possible.  It’s your Divine right, something you’re supposed to look forward to getting.”


Prince Vasiliy Aleksandrovich (23 June/7 July 1907–24 June 1989) in 1923

“I’m really eager to be Tsar, but I can’t be very good at it if I’m too young and inexperienced.  Just because that’s the way it’s always been done doesn’t mean it can’t ever be altered.  I’m glad Dyadya Misha changed the House Laws so I didn’t have to take power when I was only sixteen.  Even if we had some good Tsars of that age a long time ago, it’s a new century, with new realities.”

“You can’t convince me this isn’t sheer madness,” the Dowager Empress said from the end of the table. “You can’t just sign away your Divine rights as easily and passively as your dear father did.  A monarchy can’t sit around waiting for four years while you have fun in Paris.  If you absolutely feel you need more education, you can always have some professors brought in to tutor you in university-level subjects while you govern.  You’ll still get to indulge your bourgeois whim for a higher education while attending to your sacred duties.  Misha can’t keep holding the throne for you forever.  The people will get restless, and might, God forbid, revolt all over again.”

WIPpet Wednesday—Disrespectful doctor

Some of my recent pictures from my walks around the pond:






WIPpet Wednesday is a weekly bloghop hosted by K.L. Schwengel. The caveat is that excerpts must be related to the date in some way. I’m sharing 29 lines, for the 29th of the month.

Savva, the 35-month-old firstborn child of Grand Duchess Olga and Prince Konstantin Konstantinovich the younger, is on his deathbed with a cerebral hemorrhage and has just had Extreme Unction performed. Shortly after the ceremony, the palace pediatrician becomes extremely chutzpahdik (impudent; disrespectful) and starts seriously overstepping his bounds and behaving extremely inappropriately.

“Marital hygiene” is an old-fashioned euphemism for birth control.


Prince Konstantin and his seven surviving siblings, circa 1907. I’m at least 90% sure Konstantin is third from the left in the front.

“Please forgive me for broaching such a sensitive subject, Your Highness,” the doctor told Konstantin, “but I really hope your third child is a girl.  You don’t want to have three sick boys in a row.  And whatever this coming child is, you shouldn’t risk further children after already having two sons stricken with this curse.  You know your wife is a carrier, and that this dreaded characteristic wasn’t just a fluke with one child.  I’m sure any of your priests will grant you permission to employ marital hygiene with these extenuating circumstances.  It’s not like you’re anywhere near to the order of succession and need an heir and some spares.”

“My children are Divine blessings,” Konstantin said softly. “I have seven surviving siblings, and wanted my own family so badly for so many years.  My wife and I aren’t having children as some kind of dynastic security blanket.  I’d want a lot of children even if I hadn’t been born a prince.”

The doctor turned to Aleksey. “And you, Your Majesty.  I really don’t mean to be morbid or disrespectful, but I hope this has moved you to change your mind about heading off to Paris for four years.  With your condition, you never know when it’s going to be your time.  Even if you don’t reign for very long, at least secure the dynasty by marrying and producing an heir.  No one wants to see the succession shift to you-know-whom.”

“This isn’t the time or place to discuss such things,” Mikhail said. “I’m very disappointed in you for even broaching such subjects at a child’s deathbed.  If you value your esteemed position, you won’t speak any further on such matters.”

“Yes, Your Imperial Highness.  But we must discuss these things as soon as possible.”

“That’s entirely up to my family’s discretion.  The dynasty is secure in my hands, and my nephew will take the appropriate measures to keep it secure once it’s his turn on the throne.  The particulars aren’t your concern.”

“It should’ve been his turn on the throne since two years ago.  Do you really intend to hand over the reins at some point, or do you plan to steal your nephew’s birthright?  You may have grown too fond of your position as Regent, and His Majesty is too innocent to understand your scheme.  I hope to God you’re not amending the House Laws again, so your morganatic son can inherit the throne and your commoner wife can become Empress.  It was bad enough you already revised them once, even if part of those revisions were for an understandable, realistic reason.”

WIPpet Wednesday—No chance for a miracle

A few of my favorite recent pictures from my walks around the pond:





WIPpet Wednesday is a weekly bloghop hosted by K.L. Schwengel. The caveat is that excerpts must be related to the date in some way. I’m sharing 23 lines, for 22+2015.

Aleksey’s 18th birthday party has been adjourned in the wake of one of his nephews, 35-month-old Prince Savva Konstantinovich, suffering a cerebral hemorrhage after a minor fall. Some people left for the rival Vladimir Palace to continue their merrymaking, and then Aleksey himself left the party for his nephew’s sick bed, over several protests. As much as he hates having to revisit the kind of scene which is now just the stuff of nightmarish memories, it’ll be far worse to remain at the banquet.


Unhappily taking a therapeutic mud bath in the Crimea

By the time Aleksey had reached Olga and Konstantin’s room, the palace pediatrician had been summoned and Savva lay unresponsive on the bed.  One of the palace chapel’s priests was also in the room.  Almost more heart-stopping than the sight of Savva was Olga, who sat in a corner clutching a prayer rope.  She hadn’t looked so catatonic and melancholic since captivity.

“This is very bad,” the doctor said. “The child has lost consciousness, and will probably be gone before daybreak.  There are six other priests on their way here to perform Extreme Unction.  He’s too far gone for mere Last Rites.”

“Are you absolutely sure he can’t make a miraculous recovery?” Konstantin asked. “My brother-in-law here was given up for dead so many times, even after Last Rites, and today he’s reasonably healthy.  Don’t plan my firstborn child’s funeral while he’s still in the land of the living.”

The doctor shook his head. “I’m truly sorry, Your Highness, but this is a cerebral hemorrhage, and your son lost consciousness very quickly.  As much danger as His Majesty was in all those years ago, at least that hemorrhage wasn’t in his brain.  Who knows what caused that miraculous remission.”

“It sure as hell wasn’t that damned monk,” Mikhail said, facing a window. “Whatever happens, please don’t use this tragedy as an excuse to invite another person like that into our home.  Once was bad enough.”

“Oh, believe me, we won’t be inviting any crazed monks into this home,” Konstantin said. “I’m sure we all remember what his influence led to, and no one wants to repeat that devastation ever again.”

Twenty minutes later, the other six priests hurried into the room, carrying seven candles, a bowl of wheat with a shrine lamp, wine, olive oil, and seven anointing brushes.  Savva still hadn’t regained consciousness, nor was there there any sign he was recovering.  During the entire ceremony, he lay motionless across his father’s lap.